Haret AlfasiThe Long Way To Italy | Autumn 2016

Day 3: Sandy beaches and Amsterdam

I groggily recall waking up during the night with a frozen back. Turns out I hadn’t zipped up the sleeping bag properly and my back was exposed. I uncomfortably shuffled myself back inside, zipped up the side and floated away once more.

Waking up at around 9:30 in the morning, I looked around the tent slowly….processing the mess around me and waking myself up to the fact that the trip had indeed begun. I went to grab the water bottle that I’d inefficiently left in the opposite corner and toppled over my legs that were strapped tight inside the mummy wrapping. Right……best to take it slow I said xD. Without even going outside, I could already see that it was a fantastic day, with the sun forcibly pushing its beams through my tent and filling the inside with hues of gold and orange. Opening the the zipper brought in a gust of fresh air and framed a spotlessly blue sky. Awesome I thought!

I turned round to check that the bike was still there (as you always do) and it was. My eyes didn’t notice something else at first but then they clicked onto it. A strange looking red metal cylinder, a box and a small note were left next to the bike. Curious! It was a box of tomato soup sachets with a camping gas cylinder. I opened the note and in it was written:


Not sure if you’re about to leave for UK or have just arrived? I fly out tonight so would have to throw the gas away. Not sure if it’s of use to you? If not, then just dispose of it!

Cheers. Chris”

I was genuinely genuinely touched! What a kind gesture! And completely unexpected too! Thank you SO MUCH Chris even though I didn’t see you last night! Waaaaaah. These are the kind of things that lift up my mood and get me pumped up to do more and see more.

I freshened up, prayed and packed up the stuff. Once again, things were done a bit lazily and inefficiently. Perhaps it’s because I usually take a while to get into the swing and mode of things. I’m hoping that I’ll seriously speed up and actually remember the rhythm of getting this unpacking/packing up stuff done because right now I’m not too happy with myself! Haha. Fast forward an hour and a half and I was all packed up and ready to go.

My first destination for the day was Schevenigen, a coastal district of The Hague that I hadn’t been to in a while. Its sandy beaches are a marvel and so well maintained that it’s unreal. It also has a beautiful pier and is home to a magnificent hotel called the Kurhaus that looks so royal and majestic that your eyes would shy away from keeping contact. Getting there was simple enough, following the navigator directions that seemed to have really picked up from the day before and were doing a mighty fine job of taking me around. The weather kept getting better and better, albeit a tad too hot for my liking in all that biking gear. I unzipped the air vents in my jacket and trousers in the hope that they would help cool me down, and they did indeed help a ton. I rolled into Schevinengen just shy of midday and the first thing I did was grab a breakfast sandwich and something to drink. I also hopped into a nearby Albert Heijn and bought my favourite juice concentrate that I hadn’t tasted in years. Ahhhhhhh, strawberry Karvan Cevitam! You simply can’t get better than that stuff, but watch out if you’re counting calories or on a diet. This stuff is packed with sugar and tempts even the most vigilant dieters and health freaks xD.

The beach wasn’t too far from where I was at this point, still, I wanted to park my bike as close as possible seeing as excessive walking in this gear and in this weather was going to make me hate myself very quickly. A couple of minutes later, I was right where I wanted to be, parked a stones throw away the beach amongst a sea of bicycles, haha. In all fairness, motorcycles are still considered a form of a “cycle” and thus I afforded myself the luxury of parking my bike amongst her fellow engineless sisters. She did stick out like a sore thumb though. A tad bulky and heavy but…..she still had two wheels xD.

I took the time to walk to the pier, the Kurhaus and to the water itself and then slowly made my way back. Trudging through the sand made walking a million times worse, but I comforted myself with the idea that it IS healthy after all to have a little walk after a meal xD. What did grab my attention however while I endured this torture was the general ambience of relaxation, family and joy on the beach. Nothing had changed since the last time I stood there almost 8 years ago. Parents splashing in the water with their children, couples sunbathing, groups of men kicking footballs and throwing frisbees, old couples with paper machè skin sunbathing with sun caps and sunglasses while looking like over-roasted chickens on a spit fire, and the list goes on xD. There is definitely something unique about this place and I really can’t put my finger on it. Please visit it if you do get the chance. You won’t be disappointed :)

Back on the bike, I set my bearings for Amsterdam. The idea was to have a quick peek and from there to continue the push north. I hopped onto the motorway from The Hague and within two blinks found myself rolling past Schipol Airport. The first thing that hit me was: “Gosh, there’s an airplane crossing the motorway xD. Then I quickly remembered that this Goliath of an airport has 5 runways and taxying between them and the main terminal can last almost the same as my flights to Amsterdam from Birmingham would…roughly 55 minutes. Of course that’s me throwing in a little exaggeration spices and chilli flakes, but seriously…..taxying in Schipol can be a right pain in the ass.

Saying goodbye to Schipol, I was at the gates of Amsterdam in no time, and that’s when my eyes gleamed. I’d never really visited Amsterdam properly before, only once or twice had I fleetingly skipped through it but to actually go to the central areas and walk its canals was something I hadn't experienced. The architecture, the bridges, the canals, the cyclists, the history, the motion….it truly is a piece of art! I parked my bike in front of the Royal Palace and walked around the vicinity snapping a few photos. As I stood on a nearby bridge, I overheard an American couple asking a passer by to take a photo of them. The passer by did indeed oblige, snapped the photo, returned the phone and hurriedly walked away. They in turn quickly busied themselves with checking how it turned out and immediately the lady said: “Oh no….his finger is showing in the picture! “ :(. I skipped over to them immediately and offered to take another one of them! They both beamed and jumped at the offer, repositioning themselves and giving me those Hollywood smiles that they must’ve worked so hard on polishing to that level, haha. Turns out they were newly married and that they were on their honey moon! How awesome! I made their day apparently xD.They asked me if I wanted to have my photo taken but I thanked them and declined seeing as I generally avoid standing and posing in my pictures xD. The husband agreed as well saying he was the same, which had us concluding that this is probably a guy thing xD. To conclude, I wished them the best of luck and many happy years together, and they responded with the same to me before skipping off beaming with happiness.

I walked back towards the palace as I wanted to get a proper shot of it, but the silly trams kept coming and blocking my view Finally, and after minutes of waiting, I managed to get a somewhat decent shot I was happy with. And then…..I looked towards my bike……and saw two police officers standing next to it with my camping bag on the ground. Noooooooooooo! no no no no no no no xD. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me and made myself present to them. They asked me where I was from, and what the issue was with the bag. I explained my story and where I was headed and that this bag contained my camping gear. They insisted that this was not ok, and that anyone could potentially take it or put stuff in it, and how this was a serious security concern given the sensitivity of the location. I agreed completely and apologised profusely, citing that I had stayed as close as possible and only wanted to take a few photos nearby. They asked for my license and bike documents, and after checking through them, they explained once again why they had taken the precautions that they did and that I should be careful next time. I acknowledged their points and assured them that this would not happen again. They walked away content and didn’t even linger around to see me off. The incident shook me up a little bit, so I recomposed myself and felt that it was the right time to leave the big city and start making a move once again. As I was rolling out of the parking bay, I spotted a Turkish biker with a black bag similar to mine on his bike xD. I stopped to warn him about leaving it but he didn’t speak a single word of English. What was amazing was how he automatically proceeded to pull out his phone and load Google translate immediately, haha. I wrote what I needed and saw how his face gradually broke into a smile as he read the translation of what I had written. Technology can seriously be kickass, and these moments are golden!

The navigator did a fantastic job getting me out of Amsterdam, and I soon found myself on the road towards Almeere and Emeloorde. I’d opted to not take the Afsluitdijk and instead headed more inland towards Groningen. Kilometre after kilometre, I started to feel an uncomfortable buzzing sound in my ears. These bluetooth speakers were seriously no good and the amount of wind noise was giving me a headache. They were neither great at reproducing sound, and neither did they block out the noise, so I stopped on the side of the road and had the crazy idea of putting on my iPhone earpods on. That technically relegated the bluetooth camera communicator to simply an action camera, and I was cool with that for the time being because my ears were seriously suffering. Unfortunately however, the suffering only seemed to get worse as the plastic that comes down from the earphones started to dig into my ear due to pressure caused by the bluetooth speakers. This was getting worse and my neck started to hurt a lot. Solution? I needed to stop at a MediaMarkt and buy some of the super small-profile Sony earphones I really liked. They were a hit and miss purchase though as sometimes the wind buffeting would seriously impact their sound quality, but still, I knew they were comfortable and needed to get my hands on a pair ASAP.

I decided to get off the motorway when I reached Groningen and tapped “Mediamarkt Groningen” on Google. Luckily there were two, and both were open till 8pm. Awesome! I dashed to the nearest one and walked out a few minutes later with what I needed. Great! I put them on and wore my helmet with the bluetooth headphones still in their same place and…….no pain. Fantastic! I fired up the bike and tapped “Oldenburg” into the navigator. I was keen to try and make headway and hoped to reach Oldenburg in Germany even though it seemed a far stretch if I was completely honest. I hit the road and quickly noticed how dark it was getting. The sunset however was simply STUPENDOUS and warranted a couple of stops for photos and video snaps. Back on the road, and after entering Germany, I parked up once again to find myself a last minute booking on booking.com and………lo and behold. No data connection! Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Are you kidding me? I thought Germany was in the “Feel At Home” list of countries! I’m sure of it! No matter what I did however, the data connection wouldn’t come. I switched the phone on and off, put the phone on Airplane mode and back, nothing. I couldn’t stay on the motorway for much longer as it was night time by this point, so I opted to exit at the next junction which happened to be for the town of Leer. I stopped once again a few minutes later to try and make the data connection work but to no avail sadly. My only choice? Ride till I find a hotel or check the navigator’s list of POIs. Luckily there were a few hotels and I randomly picked one. I got there a couple of minutes later and proceeded to stand in the reception for a couple of minutes in silence….waiting for someone to show up. It was then that I noticed the small service bell on the desk. One “ding” was sufficient to bring the receptionist in front of me in seconds! Haha. I checked in and was offered to keep the bike in the garage which was very nice of them indeed!

The room was very comfortable; a twin bedroom with an ensuite bathroom that that had the most AMAZING shower! Gosh. I must’ve spent…..I can’t even remember how long I was in there for xD.I got into something more comfortable, prayed and then sat down to see how I could get my email account back from Google. They have this appeal form you can fill out and upon completing it, they mention that they will get back to you within 1 to 3 hours. They got back to me within minutes with what was clearly an automated email saying sorry, your appeal has been rejected please try again and include more information. I proceeded to fill the form again adding as much of the info they requested and hit send. They responded back a few minutes later with……the same automated response. I filled the form a THIRD time and held my breath. Of course….they emailed back with the same automated response -_-. I think it’s probably gone forever. But what really scared me once again was the idea that almost all of my online activity is linked to that one Gmail account. Losing access to it means that in the case I forget passwords to other services/websites would mean I’d be royally screwed. How crazy!!

I put my Google account to the side and decided to focus on doing some of my freelance work for a bit while chatting to family and friends on Whatsapp once again. After a while, I thought it best to simply call it a night and make a fresh start in the morning…..which is exactly what I did.